The National Library currently has an exhibition of incredible photographs from the War of Independence era, writes Marjorie Brennan.
From our comfortable vantage point of 100 years, it is hard to perceive the destruction and devastation visited upon the country in the War of Independence.
Now, a new exhibition from the National Library is drawing on its vast photographic archive to provide a fuller understanding of a country at war.
According to curator Carol Maddock, one of the main aims of the exhibition, From Turmoil to Truce: Photographs of the War of Independence, is to reflect the personal experiences of people who lived through it.
“Our take is how ordinary people were trying to live their lives in extraordinary times. We looked at personal stories versus the monumental damage that was done to city and townscapes around Ireland, for example, the burning of Cork, where whole swathes of the city were just left in rubble,” she says.
A large proportion of the photographs were taken by one man, the industrious Dublin-based photographer WD Hogan, a commercial and press photographer based at Henry St in Dublin, who travelled around the country chronicling the impact of the war. The images were acquired by the library in 1995 and 2007.
Most of the images on display are digitised from photographic prints.
“I always thought our digital studio staff were brilliant, but these are truly remarkable quality, they are pin-sharp,” adds Maddock, who,following, gives some more details of selected images from the exhibition.
From Turmoil to Truce: Photographs of the War of Independence, NLI’s National Photographic Archive, Temple Bar, Dublin, until May 2020. Free entry.
[NLI curator Carol Maddock] ‘I’ve always loved this photo because she looks so defiant with the hands on the hips — but it is in the face of appalling circumstances.
You can see half of their household goods are out on the road.
Her 70-year-old mother, Mrs Brown, was a widow and Miss Brown — we don’t actually know her first name — described how there had been an IRA ambush in the vicinity.
The Crown forces had retaliated somewhat but they came back again on January 7. They went to Mrs Brown’s house and Miss Brown said two of the soldiers helped her get their furniture out of the house but the other men just looked on and laughed.
And when the soldiers were finished wrecking the house, they turfed out the cattle and the pigs out of the barn and the piggery and wrecked those as well.’
‘These were auxiliaries of ‘Q’ Company, outside the London & North Western Hotel on Dublin’s North Quay, where they were billeted.
The IRA attacked the hotel on the morning of April 11, 1921 but they were fought off. Basically what you have here is a group of men who are very relieved to have survived.
You can see someone, maybe a member of staff in the hotel, looking out through the broken pane of glass.
A lot of people would have issues with the auxiliaries as a force in Ireland, so I am going to be quite intrigued to see how people react to a photo of them looking so happy.
‘In this, you see the one big facade of a building still standing, that was 31 Patrick Street, the location of Sunner’s Pharmaceutical and Dispensing Chemist.
WD Hogan took a lot of photographs around that area. It had to appeal to the photographer in him, never mind the human being, because everything around is so devastated.You can see that everything is still smouldering, there’s dust everywhere.’
‘This is another shot from Hogan around Patrick Street…. I’m not sure what he got up on to take the photo. I would love to know, it would be great if people could work it out.
It is not one of his better quality photos but I felt it just showed off into the distance, the sheer devastation — I believe about five acres in the centre of the city were decimated.
There is an arched shape in the background with stripes on it, that is around Winthrop St, and it has been suggested to us in thepast that it was the Lee cinema which only closed around the late ’80s.’
‘This was taken on Patrick St, the shop on the left was Burke’s boot and shoe shop and on the right was Miss Foley’s, a stationery and print shop.
The constabulary members are standing in front of the Methodist Wesley Chapel.
And the little boy that is coming towards them — it had been suggested to me that if this was any day other than Sunday, that he might be an Echo boy, because it was about 50 yards from the ‘Echo’ offices.’
‘This was a reprisal following the IRA killing of an RIC district inspector called Wilson. There was huge damage in Templemore.
We’re not sure whether this was Kelly’s drapery or Kelly’s grocery because both of those are listed as businesses in a newspaper.
A garage and a tailors were also attacked, the devastation was pretty severe.
Sometimes though, people were lucky — McGrath’s next door looks perfect. You could be going in there to have your John Jameson whisky after the clear-up.
It was the luck of the draw where the grenade went and whether people could fight the fire quickly enough.’
‘While the death of Terence Mac Swiney on hunger strike was an awful personal tragedy for his family, the propaganda value for the fight for Irish independence around the world was huge.
This photo was taken at the New York Polo Grounds, which I think may have been home to the New York Yankees at some stage.
It was taken on October 31, 1920, the day after Terence MacSwiney was buried in Cork.
There were huge protests all over North America. I think Eamon de Valera turned up to speak up at this one, but really, I focused on these women because it’s such an amazing photograph.
There is a woman in the background and her placard says ‘One man can save a nation, one man redeem the world’.
A lot of people might find that quite blasphemous, comparing Terence MacSwiney to Jesus, presumably.’